Sunday, December 14, 2008

Interview with Mo Shaik

Part 1

DA: We’re here with Mo Shaik at Exclusive Books in Hyde Park at the launch of the Jeremy Gordin biography of Zuma, entitled "Zuma". So tell us Mr. Shaik, what are your initial thoughts of the book so far?

MS: Well, I’ve read that chapter that deals with the Hefer Commission for two reasons. One is to see whether he’s said any bad things and to see whether he’s got it quite right. And he didn’t say any bad things about me which I’m very happy [sic]. And secondly I like his writing style. It seems like it is an easily readable book and I hope it’s going to be informative.

DA: But also an important book because much has been said about Mr. Zuma for the last seven or eight years, he’s occupied a significant portion of our public space and our public attention. So how do you think Mr. Zuma has been represented and how do you think that deviates from your actual interactions with him and your actual experience of this man?

MS: I think to date Zuma’s representation has been influenced mainly by Zapiro’s description or Zapiro’s depiction of him as a bumbling fool, a guy who believes that AIDS can be solved by a shower. And that’s unfortunate for those who really know Zuma who find that he’s a much more amenable person, he’s a deep intellectual who thinks very hard about matters and is a leader who can bring together consensus like no other leader can.

DA: Okay, so I mean are you suggesting that his image has been distorted or…?

MS: Absolutely.

DA: Okay, but surely he is making these public statements himself? Recently he made some quite controversial statements about young pregnant girls and forcing people to attend school.

MS: Let me just say in the environment that we live in now, pre-election, COPE dominated, an anti, hostile media, I think anything that Zuma says will be turned and used against him. I’ve always said the only thing you’ve not blamed him for is climate change or global warming. That’s the only thing we’ve not blamed him for yet; but everything else we have. And I think comments that he has made in respect of pregnant children – pregnant girl children – about street children, etc are comments that we need to look at. We need to engage with this phenomenon.

What he’s trying to do by it - and some may think that he is out to shock - but the phenomenon of young girls getting pregnant is something that we as a society need to deal with. The street children issue is something we as a society need to deal with. We can’t keep ignoring the kids that we see at the robots who begging for money and then say well we live in a democracy but we don’t care shit about the children. Now, I think he is alerting us to these kind of issues. Of course, taken out of context, it can mean a whole lot of other things for the people who just simply are anti-Zuma.

DA: I find it interesting because in many ways Zuma often defers questions about his personality or his own role as an individual for the struggle for the end of apartheid and for democracy and his role within the ANC. So I think that a lot of ANC leaders are quite averse to that kind of scrutiny. Do you think that this biography will show us more of the man behind the public persona?

MS: I think it’s the beginning of starting to see the man in a different light and I think it is the beginning of getting to know Zuma in a very different way. I think, and you’re right in the sense that he is shy to speak of himself which is understandable given the kind of period we have been through now.

DA: But is that good for a democracy?

MS: Yes [… ] we must avoid the trap that other countries have gone into where you want to see in your leaders everything about their private lives. I think we need to separate constantly the public from the private and I think that’s good for a democracy.

DA: Surely that’s the sacrifice of leadership, that…?

MS: No, not necessarily… We are standing in a public place but I don’t want to know the colour of your underwear, do you?

DA: I’d rather not reveal that!

MS: Exactly.

DA: I think people often overlook the fact that Mr. Zuma played a very dominant role in the Mbeki administration. He was deputy president for several years.

MS: No, he’s not played a dominant role. If you look at the way the Mandela administration was structured and then the way the Mbeki administration was structured we will see that under Mandela the deputy presidency had an enormous role to play but under Mbeki the deputy presidency was watered down. And I think that is what happened and the presidency, as in the president’s office assumed a greater role. I think under the Mbeki administration the deputy presidency was a watered-down role.

Part 2

DA: What do you think are the challenges posed by the break-away movement, the Congress of the People?

MS: Well, I think essentially what they are going to do is racialise politics in this country. For example, they will as COPE become, in my view the next official opposition. But, in the process of doing that, they are going to make the DA a more white party, they will make the Independent Democrats an all-coloured party and they will make the UDM an all-Xhosa party.

DA: What is there to suggest that that will actually happen?

MS: Well, it’s simple if you read the political history. Why would anyone want to vote DA if you have a so-called credible black party? Most of the whites will vote for COPE, who believe that COPE has the chance to form an effective opposition. Only those who have historically been with the DA will vote for DA and that will be whites. The same will happen with the coloured community in Cape Town. They will now see COPE as a credible opposition, they will vote for COPE and only those who are really either kith or kin will go for Patricia de Lille in the ID. So you will see that racialisation happening.

DA: So, has the formation of COPE given the ANC pause to consider what have we done to alienate a significant portion of our following?

MS: Let’s be clear on why COPE has been formed. COPE has been formed because there were undemocratic people who could not accept the outcome of the Polokwane conference and everything else has been for that. So it’s people who have been used to power. And please don’t forget that they are the ones who have been ministers and premiers of Gauteng, etc for the past fifteen years. And they are the ones who [have] now formed the new party. Now any party that is formed on an anti-basis does not survive. I’ve made this point before: that you do not demonstrate your democratic characteristics or tendencies by engaging in an undemocratic way.

DA: One of the unfortunate side-effects of the run-up to Polokwane was the politicization and the factionalism experienced within the state institutions. I know you have a background in intelligence and the Hefer Commission dealt a lot with the role of the intelligence agency, the NIA. What are the challenges that the NIA is facing and how can we re-structure our intelligence services to be less political?

MS: Well, I think the challenge – and that’s a very good question – the challenge that the country will be facing is how do we ensure that we have a non-political partisan civil service and how do we ensure that there is a professionalization of the civil service? And how do we ensure that the civil service becomes efficient and effective in their delivery. Those are the challenges that the government – any government will have to deal with. If you recall, the Nicholson judgement went to the heart of the abuse of state power by President Mbeki and his cabinet. And I think that we will still be grappling with that issue for a while but I think now that we have the Nicholson judgement there is a challenge to the new government to ensure that we now begin the process of the professionalization of the civil service.

DA: Lastly, the elephant in the room, with this book specifically, is going to be the Arms Deal. Do you think that President Motlanthe and his decision to reject the call by Desmond Tutu and de Klerk and others for a judicial inquiry – an independent inquiry – into the Arms Deal? Do you think that that’s justified? What are your thoughts on that?

MS: Well, my view is that the Arms Deal is the most prostituted whore in this country. Everyone who’s had anything to say about it has had something to say about it. But the truth of the matter is it’s been in international investigations and constantly the question was put the proof before the courts, before the police, and no-one’s been able to come up with anything other than speculation, other than gossip, other than what has been regurgitated all this while. Now whether a commission will put that to bed I don’t know.

Because at the heart of it lies politics, lies international politics, lies national politics. And, for example, if you look at the two people who have been prosecuted for corruption in the Arms Deal, the one being Tony Yengeni, the other being Schabir Shaik, none of it was about substantial payment of money from the arms dealers to these people. With Schabir Shaik it was his own money. In the case of Yengeni it was a discount on a car. And I think if we do want to have a commission it would be good if Tutu and de Klerk made that call while Mbeki was the President of the country. Then it would have been courageous of them.

Secondly, I think if we want to have a commission of enquiry into the Arms Deal, it must be a commission of enquiry of all the facets, including, including prosecuting those who have illegally used information of the state to discredit other people. And on that example, Andrew Feinstein should be prosecuted.

DA: Alright, contentious remarks from Mo Shaik, as always.

MS: Not at all, not at all, it’s democracy!

DA: Thank you very much for speaking to Quid Pro Quo.


Photos by Mark Oppenheimer


  1. Verrry interesting. Thanks, Dave. And nice moustache.

  2. It seems to me that Mo Shaik's argument about COPE racialising SA politics reflect his own assumptions rather than any evidence, historical or otherwise. His rhetorical question "why would anyone vote DA if you have a so-called credible black party?" can only be taken to reflect his own point of view, not those of the SA electorate. He assumes political racialisation beforehand to predict political racialisation afterwards.

  3. The moustache is already gone unfortunately. It was hideous (as the above image shows).

    Note that I was speaking to Shaik over a week ago, before the routing of the ANC in the Western Cape. The ANC lost many counsel positions which goes against many of the claims Shaik makes in this interview.

    But yes, he does contradict himself. On the one hand he says that COPE will racialise politics by making the DA an all-white party. But then in the next paragraph he goes on to say that whites will vote for COPE to ensure an effective opposition. The latter point, which I think will be the case, will be a welcome shift of voting strategically and not along identity lines.

  4. This is such a juicy interview, David. You should try to sell it to a print newspaper.

    I'm not sure that Mo was contradicting himself in the comments about the DA, actually. I think that what he is saying is that all of the "strategic" voters will move to COPE, which will leave only loyalty votes for the other opposition parties. He might be right about the fact that the people with historical loyalty to the DA will be almost exclusively white.

    It's a bit of a conundrum for me, actually. Because I believe in God-Zille, but want a strong opposition ... what to do ...

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